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Protestors say mission conference is gay communist plot
Organisers of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism taking place near Athens, Greece, addressed the 600 participants today about the small but vocal protests taking place outside the Agios Andreas resort. They urged calm and respect.
On Monday, when representatives were arriving from 105 countries and many different churches and confessions, a lone demonstrator carried a placard proclaiming ìOrthodoxy or deathî.
Yesterday afternoon a group of protestors carried signs and shouted slogans accusing church and mission leaders taking part in the historic event of being part of a communist and homosexual plot. ìYou are going to hell!î they yelled.
One participant from a church with a peace tradition talked to Ekklesia this morning about his own attempts at conversation with those verbally abusing him.
ìI wanted to offer them my love and prayers and to try to find out why they were so hurt and offended by our presence,î he explained. ìIt was difficult to be heard, but I believe we have to seek the face of Christ in each other, perhaps especially when there is anger and misunderstanding in the air,î
Today the Rev Ruth Bottoms, UK Baptist pastor and Moderator of the World Council of Churchesí Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, said that the organizers of the assembly recognized that demonstrators should be free to speak their minds. But likewise participants should be free to confer without threat.
Most of the protestors are members of organizations that claim to speak for the ëtrueí Orthodox faith. They oppose the involvement of the Orthodox Church of Greece, which is hosting the event for the WCC alongside Catholics and Protestants on the local reception committee.
But a spokesperson for the Church of Greece made it clear that such aggressive, antagonistic behaviour is not representative, although it is acknowledged that some members of the Church oppose both ecumenism and the presence of the conference in Athens.
Many of those involved in the demonstrations have joined a breakaway Orthodox body not recognized by the Church.
Those taking part in the world mission conference, probably the most widely constituted Christian gathering of its kind, say that the Greek Orthodox Church has been very open to them.
His Beatitude Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and all Greece welcomed the delegates on Tuesday morning. He has spoken of the vital need for ìdialogue with love in Christ for our Christian brothers and sisters and with respect for them.
This is the first major ecumenical event of the 20th and 21st centuries to take place in a majority Orthodox context ñ and one not without its own differences.
The handbook for participants stresses the need for sensitivity: ìGreece is a country with a long and rich Christian traditionî, it says. ìFor those of you who come from completely different contexts, use this week to try to understand the specificities of the Greek churches and culture.î
Conference participants are also asked to respect the hospitality of the Church of Greece, and to ìrefrain from any word or action that may offend our hosts, in particular on issues of church life and theology.î
It goes on: ìIf you see or experience things which seem difficult to youÖ let people with local knowledge explain the significance of practices, rituals, buildings, images or statements.î
The aim of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism is to provide an opportunity for practical exchange about the future of global Christian mission. Many participants have travelled from the worldís hotspots to discuss how the Gospel can help overcome violence and witness to a culture of peace made possible in Christ.